Dwars door Vlaanderen: Lotto Soudal backing defending champion Jelle Wallays

Tiesj Benoot and Jens Debusschere offer further options for Belgian team

Dwars door Vlaanderen defending champion Jelle Wallays will lead the Lotto Soudal line at the 1.HC race alongside Tiesj Benoot and Jens Debusschere. The 26-year-old won the race last year with Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise ahead of then teammate Edward Theuns and Cannondale-Garmin's Dylan van Baarle.

"The feeling to ride in your home region is just incredible. I really like it when a lot of fans are standing along the course. Their encouragements really make you perform better. The next three races are partly held in West-Flanders and that's fantastic. I look forward to Wednesday, it's a race which suits me. I'll certainly make the best of it," Wallays said of the race.

Wallays was a non-starter on stage 4 of the Volta ao Algarve in mid-February but recovered to start both races of 'opening weekend',  Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, and has continued to build for his big early-season goals.

"After the crash in the Volta ao Algarve I had some troubles with my knee and my hip," he said. "The past two races in Nokere and Handzame were very useful to do the final preparations towards the coming races. I was able to do my work for the team and I had a great feeling during the race. We start with a strong team on Wednesday, everyone is in good shape. The Taaienberg, Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg are still far from the finish though."

Wallays will be one three cards that Lotto Soudal can play with Benoot, third at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, and Debusschere capable of landing on the podium after the 200km race.

"It's possible that this year's Dwars Door Vlaanderen ends in a sprint with a large group, partly because the weather conditions won't determine the race. If that's the case, we have a good chance with Jens Debusschere. He's very fast and has proven in Milano-Sanremo that he's fully recovered from his crash in the Strade Bianche."

Sports director Frederik Willems added that the selection provides Lotto Soudal with several options across the day and name checked BMC and Etixx-Quick Step as the teams to watch.

"A lot of riders are in a very good form and that's also necessary with regard to the coming races. We start with a strong team and we have a few leaders who can be present in the finale. That's an advantage, the more riders a team has in a finale, the better. Other teams can pull at the front of the peloton but nevertheless we'll have to be attentive at the front. When someone attacks from BMC or Etixx -Quick-Step we have to be there as well," Willems said.

Despite injury hampering selection, Willems explained he believes the riders, including Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen winner Sean De Bie, will leave a mark in Flanders.

"Guys like Tiesj Benoot and Jelle Wallays are able to attack or react on attempts from other teams. If a sprint takes place, we have a strong rider like Jens Debusschere. We lost some useful riders such as Gert Dockx, Stig Broeckx and Frederik Frison due to crashes, that's a pity. But luckily our team consists of enough strong riders so we're able to handle that." 

Lotto Soudal for Dwars door Vlaanderen: Lars Bak, Tiesj Benoot, Sean De Bie, Jasper De Buyst, Jens Debusschere, Pim Ligthart, Marcel Sieberg and Jelle Wallays. 

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